Māori representation in local government and Pākehā liberals.

Submissions on the mixed-model Canterbury Regional Council Bill were heard yesterday, and there was a lot of pākehā liberal surprise that Ngāi Tahu back a mixed-model council, even beyond the next term. In many ways this follows on from earlier liberal surprise that the Māori Party would be backing the Bill, which lead to the surprise that Ngāi Tahu supported the Bill. (Ngāi Tahu’s views being particularly important in the context that the Māori Party will be the swing votes for this legislation, and the party’s kaupapa suggests that Ngāi Tahu’s views, as the iwi most directly affected, will play a substantial role in their voting behaviour.)

In all honesty, it’s not really a big surprise that Ngāi Tahu weren’t huge fans of the elected Regional Council, and nor is it a big surprise that they would advocate a model which places them on an equal footing with central government.

There is, however, some interesting friction here in that traditional liberal thought flinches at any allocation of voting rights on anything other than a one-person one-vote basis, while liberal pākehā are also (ostensibly) committed to the Treaty relationship and iwi governance partnership. While the Māori/General Roll system for House elections is an unusual system, within each Roll voters remain allocated to geographically defined constituencies of equal size using the same voting system as each other. Similarly, the Māori ward system preserves those features at a council level, where it is used (Bay of Plenty Regional and Waikato Regional Councils). Māori wards are also a very difficult structure to implement: only one Council, Waikato Regional, has used the Local Electoral Act provisions to introduce them.

As Ngāi Tahu’s lobbyist James Caygill points out, Māori wards are not iwi representation. Iwi representation will generally have the characteristics that it is non-geographic (i.e iwi membership is not determined by the physical location of voters) and non-proportional (i.e it is unlikely iwi representation will directly reflect the number of iwi members as a proportion of the population of the authority.)

In the Te Arawa Partnership model, Te Arawa elects an independent Board which then nominate members to council committees, including voting members for the Strategy & Finance and Operations & Monitoring committees. The Te Arawa Partnership is therefore non-geographic and non-proportional. The nominees are appointed by the elected members, and the Council is not bound by committee recommendations.

There are precedents for non-geographic constituencies. They were a feature of the British Commons until 1950, in the form of the University constituencies. There is also a great deal of precedent for disproportionate representation of communities of interest at the local government level in New Zealand. The Banks Peninsula ward of the Christchurch City Council is half the size of the other wards in order to better represent isolated rural communities, as is the Stewart Island – Rakiura ward of the Southland District Council. From a liberal perspective these appear anomalous, and personally I have my doubts about them, especially given the tendency to over-represent whiter, richer rural areas — a sort of country quota for our local government. Nonetheless, they are a feature of our local democracy and do ensure that certain kinds of community are represented when they otherwise would not.

Ngāi Tahu argue that as they hold mana whenua in the Canterbury region, the Treaty relationship indicates they should have a direct voice at the Council table. But, as Ngāi Tahu also observe, iwi representation is not Māori representation. Does the Treaty partnership call for non mana whenua Māori to be represented at the local government level? How can this be accomplished alongside mana whenua representation? In Auckland, the Independent Māori Statutory Board represents mana whenua and other Māori (mātāwaka) with specific positions tied to mana whenua and mātāwaka, while in the future Te Arawa will look to build mātāwaka representation into their structures for the purposes of the Partnership. The IMSB has had difficulties implementing urban Māori representation, and Willie Jackson is challenging certain decisions in the courts, while Te Arawa have not yet revealed how they will achieve this.

These are hard questions, particularly when put alongside dominant pākehā traditions that value geographic constituencies of equal size. Liberal pākehā need to be more aware of the complexity of these issues: “Māori wards” are not the answer to every question of representation, and may in fact be actively unwanted by iwi. At the same time, iwi representation does raise difficult legal and political questions. Canterbury Regional Council will only have full members appointed on an iwi basis as a result of an ad hoc Act, and it is unlikely that other councils would be able to act in a similar manner. There are also real questions about how the legitimacy and authority of members appointed on such a basis will be managed within the context of a political system that presumes legitimacy derives primarily from direct election by the residents of a district.

As Māori seek to take on an active partnership role in more aspects of government, these questions will keep coming up in relation to major urban authorities, with significant political responsibilities. In order for representation and governance models to be sustainable, they will need to enjoy broad based support. Resolving these questions proactively and effectively will be an important part of successfully transforming rhetorics of Treaty partnership into governance realities at the local authority level.

The author is the chair of the People’s Choice in Christchurch, but the views expressed are entirely personal.

Greens fail to rejuvenate


The Greens are the first party in New Zealand to release their party list for 2014. You can read it here. Given all of their MPs will be elected as list MPs, it’s advantageous for them to get this out of the way asap.

It is a very conservative list – they’ve opted to upset as few people as possible with it. None of their existing MPs have decided (or been forced) to retire and while there has been some minor rearrangements in the order of their 14 MPs, only one new candidate has been slotted in above sitting MPs.

Their press release puts some lovely spin on it though. You see, given they’re aiming to get 15% of the party vote, which would equate to about 20 seats. It’s nice and aspirational, but they obviously don’t put much belief in it, given with only one exception, their new candidates are all ranked above 15.

The Polity poll-of-polls shows the Greens currently hovering at 11.8% – marginally above where they polled in 2011. This would get them roughly 15 MPs, and their only new MP would be a white middle class male.

So nice work on the spin Greens, but this really is the most conservative list you’ve produced in years.

The Honours List

There’s nothing really happening in New Zealand at the moment, so I thought I would write about one of the guaranteed news stories of the New Year, alongside youths behaving badly and the weather: the honours list. The list, as it always is, is a mixed bag. Too many lawyers, local body politicians and rich people, but on the other hand, services to ecclesiastical embroidery and hand knitted lace design make a welcome appearance — and why does Mary Harris only rate the QSO?

Left wingers tend to ignore the whole thing, as it seems a rather frivolous and mostly pointless exercise in Establishment self-congratulation. For us, a man’s a man for a’ that. And that’s fair enough — but we still shouldn’t desert one of the more prominent marks of official respect to a collection of fusty monarchists and preening, would-be lords. Instead, what would a progressive honours system look like?

Firstly, there’s a fair bit of administrative tidying up we could do, starting with the elimination of the monarchical basis of the system. At present, we maintain the absurd fiction that the Queen is the fount of all honour in New Zealand, and graciously bestows honours on her most loyal subjects. (This has the unfortunate side effect of leaving the honours system tied up with the royal prerogative, and subject to executive willfulness.) Instead, let’s put the honours system on a democratic basis, with a clear legislative underpinning that makes it clear that the people of New Zealand are the fount of honour, not the monarch. And that includes the removal of knighthoods and dameries — which, apart from anything else, are currently absolutely incoherent aspects of our system: Jim Bolger holds our highest honour, and isn’t a knight, but Michael Cullen holds a lower honour and is. Because PC. Or something.

As part of the legislative underpinning, we should establish a transparent, non-Cabinet process. In other Commonwealth realms, the decisions around honours are made by independent committees of civil servants and representatives of civil society. In New Zealand, it’s a group of Cabinet ministers. There’s no reason we couldn’t have a transparent and independent process here.

And let’s have more radicalism. The honours system talks about who we are as a nation. It’s a way of expressing our national aspirations. And so let’s try and push the honours system away from a backpatting exercise for the establishment, and try and challenge ourselves with our honours. Ed Milliband’s choice of Doreen Lawrence for a peerage was a great way of using the stodgy system against itself, as well as a due recognition of a commitment to justice just as real, and just as important, as any Judge of the High Court. We should look at the honours list and feel challenged, not smug.

A Papal Election

As an atheist, the news of Benedict XVI’s resignation is not of particular significance to me (though I will check to see how his resignation letter compares to Nixon’s). However, it does trigger one of the most unusual elections in the world – a Papal conclave.

The Washington Post have already published an excellent article on the machinations behind a Papal conclave, and how they have changed over time. I highly recommend you take a read. As they quote in the story:

Officially, Ratzinger’s selection was attributed to the will of God, a force not amenable to any empirical test that is in our power to conduct.

Which is really quite some claim to a mandate.

Voter enrollment via Facebook?

In a move to increase democratic participation, from next week Washington will be the first state in the union to allow voter registration via Facebook.

Your information is coming to us from Facebook but you can do that without leaving Facebook. Your name and date of birth are pulled from Facebook profile, then it operates exactly as it does if you’re not in Facebook. Our state database checks to see if you’re already registered. If you are, it will take you to MyVote service, [where] you can update registration information. You also need a Washington state ID or driver’s license. We do another real-time check to match that this is a real person who is registering.

Certainly something that the New Zealand Electoral Commission should be looking at.